My first semester down, thank god, I will never have another" first semester back in 20 years" again. I ended up with good grades, some nice new friends, a part-time job on the circulation desk at my local library, some important new skills, the beginnings of some other new skills, and a sense of belonging that is priceless. I can see myself making the transition to this new field and I find myself spending less and less time comparing journalism and journalists to librarians and library science. Similar fields, but not at all the same, and frankly, librarians are a lot more fun and take themselves a lot less seriously than journalists. I can't imagine the journalists I know dressing up and doing precision book cart drills, for instance.
An old friend from journalism school said to me a few months ago, library school is perfect for you because you love books so much. I thought that was interesting, to be seen as a lover of books, which I am, of course. But also, the comment introduced the notion that not everyone is a lover of books, and that seems odd to me. Doesn't everyone who is literate and involved in the world of information read books? Well, no, I guess not.
People are starting to pass along articles and books about libraries, in that thoughtful way that people do. And I am now a sort of expert among my non-library associates about the world of libraries, books, and information. Are books going away? Are libraries becoming obsolete? Can we eliminate postal service entirely? Why do we still have phone books? These are some of the questions and comments I've seen raised recently. The short answer is, don't be ridiculous. Have these people not heard of something called the digital divide? I think these questions reveal a lot about the many vast differences in class experience in this country.
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project writes a lot about the digital divide. Here's a link to their April 2009 report on the digital divide. And here's from their website:
In a national survey between November 30 and December 27, 2009, we find:
74% of American adults (ages 18 and older) use the internet -- a slight drop from our survey in April 2009, which did not include Spanish interviews. At that time we found that 79% of English-speaking adults use the internet.
60% of American adults use broadband connections at home – a drop that is within the margin of error from 63% in April 2009.
55% of American adults connect to the internet wirelessly, either through a WiFi or WiMax connection via their laptops or through their handheld device like a smart phone. This figure did not change in a statistically significant way during 2009.
Those are huge numbers, but what strikes me is how many people are not included; those are also huge numbers. In this part of the country, and I'm sure elsewhere, it's really hard to get internet access beyond a dial-up. The cable and phone companies don't want to lay the lines for broadband because the number of users they expect to gain is small compared to their costs and they won't make the profits they desire. Personally, I don't think dial-up counts as internet access, it really just means you have email. That's not insignificant, but it's not full access.
The federal government is required by law to make all its laws and materials available to citizens. In the past that's meant printing everything and putting it all in federal repository libraries. Much of that information is migrating to the internet, however. So the folks who don't have a computer, or broad band, go to their public libraries. And guess what! Public libraries -- where usage is skyrocketing, by the way, and they aren't just coming in to use the internet or take out movies, they're taking out books, paper and cardboard books, in record numbers -- are being forced to cut back their services and hours because of budget cuts. I was told that people looking for disaster benefits after Hurricane Katrina had to file online (and using Internet Explorer! They couldn't use Firefox, or Safari, even. That's like saying you had to call on an Erikson phone. It's just wrong). So what do you do if you don't have a computer, or internet access, or the skill to use them, and there are no other options. You're outta luck. Don't get me started on how hard it is to live here without a car. Yuck.
But I digress. My point is I have learned this spring that information in the world, whatever its form and location, whether online or in print, is expanding exponentially; that millions of Americans (never mind people in other countries) do not know how to access it (much of our time in reference class was relearning the poor searching skills we picked up from looking for stuff on Google); and that at the same time that access to all kinds of information becomes more and more crucial, it is being restricted by closing libraries and paying for costly internet connections and computer hardware, never mind learning how to use the stuff.
There's lots of work out there for people trained in library skills. I'm excited to be joining their ranks.